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Reserving the Right to Object

Pennsylvania's Biodiesel Industry Reaches Critical Juncture

The development of renewable fuels to reduce the dependence on foreign oil, while boosting our economy and protecting the environment, has won strong support from policymakers as well as the general public. In a state where the economy is substantially driven by the agricultural sector, any energy solution which can be both positive for Pennsylvania’s environment and economically valuable to Pennsylvania’s farmers, is a ‘triple win’ for our energy independence, our natural environment, and the future of farming.

One of the key components of a renewable energy solution is biodiesel. It is environmentally friendly, has a positive energy impact, and is primarily produced from soybeans grown by Pennsylvania farmers. Biodiesel fuel also attacks one of our most pressing public health issues – finding ways to reduce the presence of truck and diesel engine pollution in and around our highways and urban centers.

Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines with no modifications and is biodegradable, nontoxic and essentially free of sulfur and aromatics. It has fully completed the health effects testing requirements of the Clean Air Act. So is there any bad news? Unfortunately, yes.

Twenty-four other states are providing production incentives to their biodiesel producers, many of which substantially exceed those incentives provided by Pennsylvania. It means that Pennsylvania’s own producers are being undercut in the marketplace by out-of-state conglomerates. As a result, our in-state biodiesel companies are literally fighting to stay alive after just being born during the past year or two.

Governor Rendell and the General Assembly are in the midst of debating and deciding a comprehensive energy plan for the Commonwealth. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau urges our lawmakers to help ensure the promising potential for biodiesel by passing a three-year biodiesel production incentive that matches federal policy of $1 per gallon for fuel produced by Pennsylvania biodiesel companies. Supporting Pennsylvania biodiesel producers is akin to supporting agricultural ‘buy local’ efforts because we are investing in our state’s farm families as well as our state’s energy entrepreneurs.

On September 17th, Cumberland County officials announced that biodiesel will fuel its public transportation vehicles. Similar initiatives can be expected elsewhere. The use of biodiesel in Pennsylvania will eventually reach a volume that will sufficiently support the newborn industry, and incentives will no longer be necessary.

These entrepreneurs and farmers are ready to provide Pennsylvania-made, environmentally friendly
fuel to our state from plants in Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, York, White Deer, Middletown, and
Philadelphia. The potential for production facilities elsewhere is great. The funding is available to support this incentive, and it’s a solution that is both fiscally responsible and simple to implement. Most of all, it supports a triple-win for Pennsylvania energy, Pennsylvania’s environment, and Pennsylvania’s farmers.

In the sea of public policy options being considered in Harrisburg this month, a small investment in
Pennsylvania’s biodiesel industry should be at the top of the list.

Guest columnist Carl T. Shaffer is a Columbia County farmer and president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, a voluntary organization of more than 42,000 farm and rural families, representing farms of every size and commodity across the Keystone State.

(Nothing in this guest opinion should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any legislation before the General Assembly.)

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